Taking on a dangerous task of the choirmaster

Hi, I’m Ian Ball and I’m playing the role of Elias Hall the choirmaster at St. Mary’s parish church in Oldham.  Set in 1701 ‘Singers not Sinners’ tells the true story of how Elias Hall convinces the vicar and the Bishop of Chester to allow women to sing in church, something that had been forbidden since the birth of Christianity.

It was a dangerous task and he could have been severely punished for his actions.  Speaking out and going against the wishes of the parish elders could lead to a time in the stocks, prison or even worse.  All it would take would be an accusation from someone else, even a false one, and the constable would be knocking on your door.

We do know a little about Elias Hall.  He was born within ‘bowshot’ of St Mary’s Parish Church and took on the role of choirmaster in 1696, on the death of his predecessor Abraham Hurst.  In 1708 Hall compiled and published one of the earliest collections of provincial parish music: ‘The Psalm-Singers Compleat Companion’.  Thankfully he wrote down his predecessors teaching methods in a memorandum book dated 1701 and kept a detailed record of his experiences as choirmaster in Oldham, without which it is unlikely that his story and those of the women who sang in church for the very first time, could be told today.

This is my first time performing with Saddleworth players but have played with other local societies over the last 12 years or so, having come late to the boards.  Earlier this year I was presented with  the NODA Northwest region award for ‘Best Male Lead in a Musical’ for my role as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof with Saddleworth Musical Society way back in 2019 (Yes Covid 19 slowed things down a little).

I play guitar, button accordeon and blues harmonica, none of which existed three centuries ago and being ‘cantankerous’, ‘curmudgeonly’, and ‘bloody minded’ means that I am well qualified to take on this role.

I’m looking forward to bringing Elias Hall back to life 321 years after he put his neck on the line for church music and for which, thankfully, he didn’t lose it.

‘Singers not Sinners’ will be performed by Saddleworth Players at Millgate Arts Centre from the 4th to the 9th of June and then the 11th, there is no performance on Whit Friday the 10th

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some of the cast and crew
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A memorable show, celebrating a memorable happening

The greatest joy in directing your own work is that you don’t have to keep to the script! Rehearsals can be creative experiences, and when actors deliver lines they sometimes do so in ways that were not anticipated. And if their way is good, or better, than was originally conceived then on this occasion it becomes the authorised version.

But the author-director also has to ride the passing humour of the performers, in this case a talented 20-strong cast: “who wrote this stuff?”; “I blame the playwright”; “I want to be a sinner as well as a singer!”

The idea for the play came from my co-writer Livi Michael after a Saddleworth Historical Society talk in 2016. It’s an important story for women, and for the town of Oldham. and we should never underestimate the personal risks that three women took when they first sang in St Mary’s Church. It happened in 1701, and yet only recently have women and girls been allowed to join some of our most prestigious cathedral choirs, and then not without  controversy.

Readings of the draft script by Saddleworth Players and Royal Exchange Elder Company provided valuable feedback which inspired revision. “It’s not dangerous enough”, it was said. “I want to know more about these characters. “You need a scene between these people.” Thankfully there was also a lot of laughter and a particularly memorable comment – “if you ever put this on stage I want to be in it.” Indeed, a number of those first readers are now amongst our cast..

It is easier to write stage directions that require scenes across 18th century Oldham, while insisting that actors perform a psalm as a four part harmony, than it is to make it happen.  Fortunately, this author – director has a magical team supporting the show who conjure up creative solutions in set, costume, lighting and sound..

My dear late friend and former Hulme Grammar colleague Ruth Dixon cast her musical eye over the play and told me we needed our music arranging.  Thanks to her I became acquainted with a gifted young man called Daniel Hicks. Six weeks ago he sat at the Millgate piano and performed his arrangements for the show. Now musical director Peter Wakefield and the cast are filling the theatre with their voices and his arrangements; they sound glorious.

‘Singers Not Sinners’ premiers at The Millgate Arts Centre in Delph, June 4-9th and June 11th It will be a memorable show, celebrating a memorable happening not only for Oldham, but for the country, and in particular for women. Come and see it!

Carol Davies

Director and Co-Writer

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some of the cast and crew

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Lockdown Blues are far behind us

I can tell that the lockdown blues are far behind the Saddleworth Players after sitting in the audience at their latest production at the Millgate Arts Centre – Nobody’s Perfect.

A slick performance of whit and humour, with amazing choreography using the whole of the stage to its full potential. Sitting within the front four rows of the auditorium, we felt we could easily join in the doorstep chats and follow the characters into the living room. Then a swift change of lights and we’re in the efficiently run office of a feminist publishing company, from where women writers are promoted for their raunchy novels.

The play involved a clever and twisted plot that wrapped the characters together similarly to a 1970’s telephone cable tangled into coils. An intercom, mobile phones, and landlines all wove an intriguing web of communication, at times leaving us wondering when they would unexpectantly be tripped up and the brewing secret spill out all over the stage.
From a soft and gentle love connection of the main characters to ever increasing seductive writing of a fictional storyline, the cross over of male and female stereotypes made for fun viewing and amusing quips that left the audience smiling broadly when the final curtain fell.

Well done and thankyou Saddleworth Players for another outstanding evening!

Review by Jude Gidney

Nobody’s Perfect runs from 2nd -9th April 2022

Emma Sykes as Dee-Dee, Ian Perks as Gus , Simon Wood as Leonard
Simon Wood as Leonard, Verity Mann as Harriet
Simon Wood as Mertle

Bar vacancy: we need you.

Linda leads our Bar and needs some additional help

Meet Linda: she leads the bar and needs some help.

The bar is an important part of Millgate Arts Centre and for Saddleworth Players. Audiences can enjoy a drink before, and after the show and cast and crew members can relax after performances. It’s the social centre of this creative community in Saddleworth.

We are looking to recruit an assistant bar leader whose duties will include:

  • Our face at the bar for audiences and members, working alongside a member volunteer. 
  • Leading the day to day running of the bar at Millgate Arts Centre
  • Helping to schedule bar volunteers
  • Cashing up 
  • Restocking Bar 

You will work in partnership with our bar leader Linda and be responsible to the Management Team’s Bar Group. Remuneration: competitive on application 

All our productions are scheduled mainly for evenings and are spread throughout the year. There are also seasonal matinees (Panto).

The successful candidate will need to:

  • hold a personal bar licence or be prepared to train for a personal bar license (we’ll pay for day course & exam)
  • have good communication and money skills 
  • be honest and reliable 
  • be available evenings and some seasonal matinees (Christmas) – we have up to 100 per year *, 
  • usually up to 5-6 hours per shift including setting up prep, stocktaking, banking at end. 

Interested? Any questions?  FULL JOB ROLE HERE 

Do you know anyone who’d like to get involved? contact us. 

Please contact Linda at the bar in Millgate Arts Centre,  Ian Shepherd or  Sandy Dixie. on 01457 874644 #2 for more info or a chat.